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March 12, 2015

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Assessing the state of fire doors

firefighters-573782_1280Assessing the state of fire doors is a relatively straightforward task, which is complicated by the nature of the buildings in which the doors are installed.

Officially fire doors serve two main functions: they protect lives and they protect the fabric of the building, limiting the spread of fire if the unthinkable happens and allowing people to escape from the building safely.

The problem with this though is that, statistically speaking, fire doors very rarely get to perform the function for which they were actually designed. The vast majority of fire doors will spend their entire working life carrying out the mundane task of simply opening and closing, sometimes a hundred or more times a day but still, just opening and closing – nothing ‘critical’ in that.

It is the very fact that doors fitted in healthcare premises get to perform this mundane task so many times on a daily basis that makes the maintenance of the doors absolutely crucial. Domestic external doors are sometimes tested for 50,000 cycles, which is designed to represent 10 years of use but I would suggest that doors in healthcare may perform this many cycles in less than a year! Add to this the passage of beds, trollies, disposal bins and a host of other ‘unusual’ vehicles it is perhaps not surprising that doors very quickly can begin to suffer if not regularly and strictly maintained.

I would suggest categorising doors in healthcare into groups or ratings. Consider perhaps:

Occasional use          less than 20 times a day

Regular use                20 – 100 times a day

Continual use            100 + times a day

Heavy use                   100 + cycles in main corridors where ‘vehicles’ are common

Obviously this can vary from building to building but in essence the benchmark remains constant.

If one considers possible examples of each group the picture becomes clearer.

A cleaner’s store will normally be used less than 20 times a day for sure. The person using the door will be a hospital employee (or facilities management employee) and will be familiar with the environment, unlikely to abuse the door in any way.

A ward manager’s office will almost certainly be used more than 20 times a day but again by people employed in the hospital so misuse is unlikely.

A ward entrance will be used a lot – obviously depending on the type and size of ward but crucially we are now introducing members of the public who naturally are not particularly concerned about the lump of ‘wood’ in their way and how it operates.

Separating doors in a main hospital corridor are the most heavily used doors of all. Members of the public, staff, service personnel, trollies, beds, disposal bins and indoor vehicles will all regular pass – and not all of them without making contact with the door!

Once we have categorised the doors we can then tailor any planned maintenance regime to automatically take into account the workload of each particular door-set thereby reducing failures. Of course there may still be instance where reactive maintenance is required (a handle is broken off for example) but this is true for any product anywhere, but at least we can concentrate resource, and expenditure, where it is most needed.

This process the neatly fits into the risk assessment. In considering the usage of the doors and then grouping them as such we have, almost by default, also considered the associated fire risk in each category and prioritised our maintenance accordingly.

What we haven’t considered however is the problem caused by staff members wedging open doors – whether by the use of an actual wedge or perhaps a chair, a bin, a bent fork or a multitude of tools and implements. This opens up a whole new debate but to close this particular piece I would suggest that even the most perfectly specified, expertly installed and correctly maintained FD120 fire door may as well not be there if it wedged open. I have had staff members laugh, mock, dismiss and occasionally insult me when challenged about the wedging of fire doors but this is the single biggest preventable risk with regard to fire safety and one that should not be ignored in any risk assessment and should the subject not be included, in my opinion, the risk assessment is not complete.

Ian Cavanagh DipFD CertFDI, is managing director of Cavanagh Consulting

He is a FDIS Certificated Fire Door Inspector. You can locate your local fire door inspector here.

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